Within the carefully constructed codes of conduct that most of us abide by, acting on impulse and the unpredictability of human nature are not welcomed. We are trained to rationalize our negative emotions in order to keep our civilization from collapsing into an ocean of chaos and anarchy. Obey the system and play by the rules. Of course, there are times in our lives when these parameters become obsolete and we give in to rage, violence, and revenge. It’s a terrifying quality of our species, but sometimes we believe getting retribution is the only way to quench our anger. In the Oscar-nominated film “Wild Tales” (Relatos Salvajes
), Damián Szifron
’s deranged and inventive ode to madness, we are confronted with the animal instincts that we so desperately try to hide - until we can’t. Betrayal, injustice, and even the need to avenge a loved one, drive Szifron’s characters into losing control. With pitch black comedy that is as universal as the situations it explores, his film is a hilarious and smart vehicle for sharp social commentary.
We had the chance to talk to Damián Szifron
at the most recent AFI Film Festival where the film had its L.A. premier after touring the world from Cannes to Toronto.
"Wild Tales" opens today February 20, 2015 in Los Angeles (Arclight Hollywood/Landmark Theater) and in NYC (Lincoln Plaza Cinemas/Sunshine Cinema), a national roll-out will follow.
On March 6, 2015 the film will open the Miami International Film Festival
Aguilar: Although some people might just be becoming aware of your work via “Wild Tales,” you’ve work on TV and film for many years in Argentina.Damián Szifron
: I did two TV series and two films before "Wild Tales." The Simulators (Los Simuladores
), Brothers and Detectives (Hermanos y Detectives
,) “The Bottom of the Sea
” (El Fondo del Mar
) and “On Probation” ( Tiempo de Valientes
,) after these projects I spend a long time writing and developing a lot of material, among them was “Wild Tales”
Aguilar: “Wild Tales” really shows us that anyone could simply renounce all rationality and act upon our most terrible instincts.Damián Szifron
: We are animals. We have our strong instincts just like wild beasts have them, but we, as humans, acquire an extra quality: repression. We can repress our instincts, which is something animals can't do. They are ruled by their instincts. We have conscience, memory, and we know that if we do "this" the consequences are "these." However, the price one pays for repressing these instincts is very high. It creates a lot of frustration and anguish. Sometimes we spend years thinking about what we should have said or what we should have done in a certain situation. But when we are confronted with situations in which repressing those instincts is almost impossible, we can definitely lose control. All of us can lose control of ourselves or at the very least we can all understand why someone loses it.
Each time I see or learn of an individual that has committed a barbaric act, I don’t see it as something that’s completely foreign or alien to me. I recognize myself in the potentiality that it could be anyone. If I see a person getting in a car and crashing it against a bank, I try to understand what could have taken that person to that point. It could have been me. Thankfully as a screenwriter or as a filmmaker, I can do something with the certain frustration that can be caused by a system that is so generous when it comes to producing situations that could drive you crazy. I can transform it into valuable material that I can share with others. Through cinema I can exorcise these issues, which is something that a lot of people can’t do.
Aguilar: The film is a like a book in which there are six different stories, but all of them are united by a single thematic threat. Tell me about the writing process.Damián Szifron
: I find a big connection between my film and literary anthologies. When I think about the film I realize that when I wrote it, I was thinking more about these anthologies than about other films. I was also thinking about musical concerts, rock shows, and even the way circus performances are arranged. I liked the idea that you have different musical numbers or performances, but they all exist within the context of the same show. There is the juggler, the lion tamer, and many others. There is something about this variety that I think the film showcases. It wasn’t like I thought about the title of the film first and then about the stories that conform this anthology. No, the stories each appeared separately. When I had four or five already developed, I noticed that they were related and that they departed from the same DNA. I feel like the film has many nuances, and sometimes I think that if I explain them too much I do it a disservice.
Aguilar: You had to cast actors for six different films, including one of Argentina’s most famous actors Ricardo Darin
. What was the casting process like for a film like this?Damián Szifron
: It was one of the most beautiful parts of the preproduction process. I imagined the film with a lot of different faces. It was a really creative time. The nature of this project allowed us to invite actors that are really renowned in Argentina and that you don’t usually see together in the same film. Each one of them is usually the protagonist of their own film, but in this case each one of them is the protagonist of a particular episode.
Aguilar: One of the great aspects of the film is the music by Gustavo Santaolalla
. Tell me about working with him on this visceral score.Damián Szifron
: He is a very talented musician. Gustavo was a producer for several rock bands for many years. He became very famous late in his career, and then he won two Oscars, but this was only after a lifetime of work. He can recognize what’s the energy of a certain show or a certain album, and in this film he helped me a lot to create the musical identity of the film. We met when I was in Europe to show Almodovar the first cut of the film, and Gustavo was in Belgium giving a lecture. I took a plane to meet him and we talked for an entire night. He knew the film by memory and he told me loved the screenplay. Two weeks later he sent me the music that used for the opening credits, and I loved it. I thought it was powerful but it was also very emotional. He completely understood the wavelength we were in and he condensed the DNA of the film in those two minutes of music. Then I came to Los Angeles and we worked on the rest of the score.
Aguilar: Wild Tales is representing your country at the Academy Awards, what does this mean to you?Damián Szifron
: I have the satisfaction that the film was chosen as the Argentine Oscar entry, which great because my colleagues, directors and producers in Argentine chose the film. There were even some that also had films that could have been selected, but they voted for my film, and that’s an honor.
Aguilar: The film has screened all over the world by now, and everywhere it goes the reactions are overwhelmingly positive. Why do you think your film connects with everyone regardless of their background?Damián Szifron
: We’ve screen the film in Cannes, Toronto, Telluride, San Sebastian, Sao Paulo, Karlovy Vary, and the film also won the Audience Award in several of these festivals. It was well received in diverse places, and I think it can be understood anywhere. During Cannes the film’s rights were bought for most territories around he globe and when you see the reaction of those who distribute films, it somewhat reflects what the audiences in those place might like. Distributors are part of the audience as well. The film can be understood anywhere because the conflicts that it tries to process are primitive and they are familiar to all human beings. Each episode deals with issues with which we can all identify regardless of the country we were born, because they talk about a man against the system, about competitiveness between two individuals, about a woman who has been betrayed during her wedding night, or about someone who plans to take revenge on all those who attempted against his success. I think these things get under the skin without much explanation.